Last week, I treated myself to a new cookbook. I wished so hard that it would arrive in the mail in time for the weekend and 'lo and behold, I was able to pick it up at the post office on Saturday morning on my trip home from the market.
I consume books, engrossing myself so deeply into them that I sometimes forget to come up for air. Never though, has this happened with a cookbook. Typically, I merely salivate over the glossy photos and read quickly through the recipes, dreaming of being the perfect host, presenting these glossy dishes as though they were my own, before depositing the book on the shelf to be pulled out at random intervals. This was different.
I eagerly sliced open my package and pulled out my copy of Laura Calder's French Taste.
Let me tell you, I am one of those who actually do judge a book by its cover, so I was very pleased to see that this book was truly aesthetically pleasing - all cream and pale blue - just like an egg waiting for me to crack it open. Careful not to break the spine of course, the book remained open on the table all day as I was pulled back to it over and over again, until I had scanned it thoroughly cover to cover.
Inside, the book is a wonderland of simple and inspiring dishes that are seemingly simple, yet elegant. Best of all, they are oh so French. Not however, in a pretentious way. Instead, they remind me of a roadside auberge that we stopped in while on our honeymoon in Normandy. The main restaurant was full so we were re-directed to a smaller building to the side of the restaurant. We were shown to our seats, a simple wooden table with rickety spindled chairs. Immediately, an opened bottle of wine was placed before us. "Damn", we thought, "we don't even know what is on the menu, and we don't know how much this meal is going to cost us, and it is too late to back out now." We gave ourselves over to the experience, having no other choice. There was in fact no menu. We looked around and we were surrounded by the sun creased faces of farmers fresh from the surrounding farms. A golden lab loped over to say hello. Soon, food began to flow from the kitchen. Simple dishes, prepared with fresh, seasonal ingredients, plated in a visually appealing yet not fussy manner. Four courses and a bottle and a half of wine later, we were satisfied in a way that a meal in Canada has never managed. (For the record, the meal was just a little over the cost of McDonald's.)
This is what the book to me evokes: a passion for food that draws its inspiration from local and seasonal ingredients, and the knowledge that food need not be a masterpiece to be appreciated. The book is peppered with personal vignettes and essays where Laura Calder shares with her readers the joie de vivre that is evident in her life, much of which is spent, enviably in France. Her book pours forth her natural charm, which if you have seen her show French Food at Home on FoodTV, you will know seems endless. It only makes sense that the food that she prepares lacks pretention and smacks of easy grace. It is a true representative of the cook herself.